Northam Blackface Update: Head and Shoulders Analysis

As part of its examination into the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook scandal, in which an unidentified figure appeared in blackface on Ralph Northam’s profile page, investigators with the McGuire Woods law firm considered a piece of evidence submitted by Northam’s personal law firm, Alston & Bird: a facial recognition report. “This report, conducted by a reputable vendor,” summarized the McGuire Woods report, “found the image of the Photograph was not of sufficient quality to conduct a comparison with other photographs.”

While the photograph is of such poor quality that facial-recognition analysis may be impossible, there is much else than can be gleaned from the photo. I have made the argument in previous posts that the figure in blackface was dressed in Michael Jackson costume.

Now a clever reader, who asks to remain anonymous, suggests another thrust of analysis: measuring the slope of the person’s shoulders and the angle at which he holds his head.

States the reader: “I noticed that the figure in the yearbook photo stood in a somewhat awkward way, with his body leaning left but his head tilted to the right (from the vantage of the viewer).” He pulled photos of Northam off the Web for purposes of comparison. “This is not unbiased evidence because I selected photos that worked, rather than doing a random sampling of photos. But it does show that the way Northam stands at times does appear to be similar to the yearbook photo.  A chiropractor might be able to untangle this!”

One can “prove” anything if one is willing to cherry pick the supporting data, and our clever reader is open about what he has done. The photos he submitted are for purposes of illustration. The salient point is not that the reader has demonstrated that Blackface Dude and Northam are one in the same but that he has opened up a new avenue of inquiry for determining if they are.

Northam does have a distinctive way of holding his head. And he does have a distinctive slope to his shoulders. I am particularly sensitive to the latter point, as one of my shoulders rests lower than the other, a factor my tailor must take into account when measuring a new suit. Not all people are built the same. If Blackface Dude and Northam can be shown to share similar physical characteristics, the likelihood increases that Northam was in the photo and the likelihood diminishes that somehow a random photograph got inserted into his yearbook page by error.

Did the Alston & Bird facial recognition report consider these points in its analysis? The McGuire Woods report gives us no clue whether the “facial-recognition” report reviewed information in the photo other than the face itself, nor does it tell us what limitations Northam might have put on the query, nor what caveats the report might have contained. Northam has it in his power to clear up these issues by making the Alston & Bird report available to the public.

In the meantime, this is precisely the kind of analysis that Virginia citizens can perform themselves — not with the goal of proving a pre-determined outcome but of getting to the truth, whatever it is.

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7 responses to “Northam Blackface Update: Head and Shoulders Analysis

  1. The costume’s attention to detail is also telling. For example, are those not finger-less gloves that Blackface Dude is wearing? This is a rig that is carefully organized, gotten up, and arranged by a meticulous man, a serious performer who is expert at camouflage.

  2. Stick with it Jim! You will get to the bottom of it.

  3. I mean, it looks like some political expert told Northam overnight that he had to deny the picture was real, to avoid resignation. So Northam’s political career as Gov may have hinged on the Virginia old boy club from the college not contradicting that.

  4. Posted on behalf of a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your take on the Ralph Northam picture fiasco, especially your recent piece making the case that the picture on Northam’s medical school yearbook page is the governor himself dressed as Michael Jackson. You nailed it. Battle won.

    What concerns me is your dissecting the picture in an effort to prove (further?) that the fellow in blackface really is Northam. There’s the argument about the hands then the head now the shoulder. If I were a guessing man, I’m thinking knees and toes would be next. It seems to me that each additional argument you make about why the picture is Northam weakens the credibility of your case, not strengthens it.

    Before you spend any more time examining the picture, maybe it would be helpful to approach the matter with William of Ockham in mind. Pull out his razor.

    For Ockham, the principle of simplicity limits the multiplication of hypotheses not necessarily entities. Favoring the formulation “It is useless to do with more what can be done with less,” Ockham implies that theories are meant to do things, namely, explain and predict, and these things can be accomplished more effectively with fewer assumptions. https://www.iep.utm.edu/ockham/

    Here’s the deal. The picture of the fellow in blackface is on Northam’s page. That means it’s Northam. I don’t believe yearbook editors are in the habit of posting pictures of people on someone’s yearbook page who aren’t that person . . . in this case, Northam. Yes, there’s someone standing next to the blackface character who isn’t Northam, that’s true. But she’s the date.

    Now, you may be thinking that the more proof you offer, the greater the likelihood that those who don’t believe it’s Northam will change their minds and believe it is. That won’t happen. There’s this character/mental flaw called willful ignorance. They’re not going to believe it’s the governor no matter what. Or, at the very least, they won’t confess to believing it.

    So the way I see it, the picture of the fellow dressed in blackface on Northam’s page is Northam. Yes, he probably was going to or coming from a venue where he performed his Michael Jackson routine. But I’m thinking that conclusion is really secondary. The guy is Northam because he’s on Northam’s page.

    • Excellent comment. But still I appreciate Jim’s efforts to disprove or harden the case. Here, I think Jim hardens the case, despite Oakham, and indeed perhaps because of his wonderful Razor.

    • I belabor the identity of the individual in blackface only (a) because Ralph Northam insists that it is not him, (b) the McGuire Woods report was inconclusive, and (c) the Democratic Party establishment and the media are treating the report as the final word and letting Northam slide.

      Applying the principle of Ockham’s Razor (proffering an explanation that requires the fewest unproven hypothesis), permit me to advance the following:

      Proposition #1: The photo was taken of two people at a costume party (unless you want to assume that the person in Klan garb, holding a drink, and standing next to a person dressed in blackface was an actual, real-life Klansman).

      Proposition #2: Ergo, the person in blackface was wearing a costume.

      Proposition #3: The costume was of Michael Jackson, as can be deduced by the blackface, the fedora, the sunglasses, the bow tie, the plaid pants, and what appears to be white tape around the ring finger.

      Proposition #4: Ralph Northam acknowledged dressing in costume as Michael Jackson at a dance contest in San Antonio, ergo, we know that he had an affinity for dressing in costume as Jackson.

      Proposition #5: The explanation requiring the fewest number of assumptions (the photograph was placed in the yearbook in error) is that Northam dressed as Michael Jackson at an EVMS costume party and then submitted the photograph for his yearbook page.

      • Yes, and what the photo shows is what Northam did at least once before or afterward which aligns with his nickname Coonman. This additional commentary of Jim’s thus confirms the obvious as explained so well by the anonymous reader’s comment. Jim’s commentary also dilutes the official report’s effort to cast doubt as to who the obvious culprit here playing his game on Northam’s year book page. It is Northam, who also admitted his own fault before he denied it the next day.

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